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What is a certified dog trainer, and do I need one?
There Are Many Dog Trainer Certifications Available
There are certifications for public accountants, personal trainers, mechanics, computer technology folks, and yes, there are also certifications for dog training. Recently, Thumbtack added a question to its form for people searching for a dog trainer, “Do you want a certified dog trainer?” When answered, “Yes,” what exactly will you be getting?
Well, a dog trainer may be certified in many different ways, and there is no one “certification body” that all people, everywhere recognize as the gold standard, light years above any other. Outside of the dog world, there is the American Society for Quality (ASQ), a professional organization that offers certifications. There is no other organization providing certifications that even come close to the value of an ASQ certification. The same holds true for the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) certifications. It is not the same for dog trainer certifications. So, let’s look at the types dog trainer certifications that you might encounter.
There are on-line schools that offer certifications for dog trainer, along with a variety of other non-dog related disciplines (e.g. Penn Foster). There are dog trainers that have schools or certifications (e.g. Karen Pryor). There are the retail chains, one of which states that they have certified dog trainers: “Our Professional Dog Trainers undergo an intense 16-week training program…” There are “independent” organizations, such as the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), which was established in 2001. They claim to be the leading independent certifying organization for the dog training profession. Finally, there are professional organizations that have certification testing. I am a member of one such organization, the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) , and have been certified with the designation Certified Dog Trainer (CDT)
What, do you as a seeker of a qualified dog trainer make of all this? In my opinion, certification could be one of many things you would look for in a dog trainer, but not the only one. Here are some suggestions, in no particular order of importance:
(1) Is the trainer experienced in what you want your dog to learn? For instance, I have had inquiries about guard/protection dog training. I do not perform that type of training, so I decline.
(2) Will the trainer provide references, or are there at least testimonials available from past clients?
(3) How long has the trainer been in business? Do they have another full-time job?
(4) Does the prospective dog trainer communicate well? Are your questions answered clearly? If you have a difficulty time understanding what he/she explains prior to hiring, the same is bound to hold true after training.
(5) Do you get the impression that you would be able to work with the trainer? This is a little “touchy-feely,” but there is something to be said about first impressions.
(6) Oh, yes, and the certification… Ask about the certification and what the trainer needed to do to attain it. Not all certifications are created equal.
On another note… Understand that the dog-training world is as deeply divided on methodology as the left and right wings of this eagle we call the USA are on politics. If there is a method or tool that concerns you, ask about it. When training is presented to you as, “science-based,” “force free,” or “all positive,” remember that those can be hollow marketing and feel-good buzzwords. Dig deeper into what the trainer means and see if it makes sense to you.
Do you need a certified dog trainer? You can certainly make that a consideration in your search for one, but it probably should not be the deal breaker when choosing (especially now that you know a little more about certifications). Ultimately, if you have checked off all of the other boxes on your list of requirements but there is no certification, you might be passing up an excellent trainer.
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